Metaphors Be With You

People link to this list of 27 funny metaphors all the time. But that’s been around for years, and no one has ever tried to expand it. The only other effort I’ve seen to collect good rhetorical language has been a handful of entries in the Adolph Eichmann’s Evil Cake Contest, which is also too old and too short – although I will forever remember it fondly for teaching me the phrase “nuclear Agamemnon”.

So here’s my list. Some are repeats from my old blog. Some are similes or other forms of figurative language. Some are a little vulgar. Some (most) I have lost the attribution for, but will credit if someone reminds me. All come with a serious trigger warning for groanworthiness.


The night passed like a kidney stone: painfully and with the help of major sedatives.
— Little Lytton Contest

This raises more red flags than 1956 China
— kodiak_claw on Reddit

This day is moving slower than a snail moving backwards on a turtle moving forwards

When I saw those two girls kissing I was as hard as Chinese math.

You find your prodigal memory accesses have been stomping around the heap like the Incredible Hulk when asked to write an essay entitled “Smashing Considered Harmful”
— The Night Watch

It turned out that Obamacare, despite all the massive brainpower behind it, had some “glitches,” in the same sense that the universe has some “atoms.”
— Dave Barry

Justin Bieber is to music what Justin Bieber is to Marine Biology.
— GS Elevator Gossip

John M. Byrne is so tragic that breast cancer walks to end him.

Healthy foods, like reality show stars, tend to be both high-maintenance and tasteless.

Off he went, faster than a French border guard with track shoes and a coupon for cigarettes.
— Silfay Hraka

Men are like chocolate…they come in bars, head straight for your thighs, and can never last long enough to satisfy you.

Fake relic dealers in the Middle Ages created enough crowns of thorns, Holy Grails, and apostle-femurs to stock a macabre, New Testament-themed Wal-Mart.

As corny as Kansas in August
— South Pacific

I hate to call a guy fat, but he had more chins than a Taiwanese phone book.

His frenzied movements made him look like a lunatic trying to learn semaphore
— John Larkin

He uses statistics the way a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination
— Andrew Lang

He had a Dickensian relationship to alcohol – exposure to spirits would completely change his personality

You are a girl with as much talent for disguise as a giraffe in dark glasses trying to get into a polar bears-only golf club.
— Blackadder

Dan Brown has a gift for metaphor and detail – a gift that’s defective and needs to be returned. I hope he has a receipt.

On reflection, all the mistakes I have made are, in some way or another, your fault. You’ve been at the helm, sowing chaos and stupidity through the landscape of my days like some sort of retarded Johnny Appleseed.

Work is like a dick. If it gets hard, fuck it.

I get hit more often than a blackjack player facing a deck of deuces.
— Order of the Stick

When you get right down to it, museums are basically zoos for inanimate objects.

Japan is to crazy as the Middle East is to oil

The plot is as engaging as watching a foot race between two convenience stores.

It’s like you crystallized the best sex you’ve ever had with a woman and put it in a tiny bottle on your spice rack. No, wait, it’s like you took THAT spice and snorted it while screwing her hotter sister.
— OotS

Ayn Rand was the Evel Knievel of leaping to conclusions
— NYMag

Monopoly is to the contemporary board gamer as garlic-infused kryptonite snakes are to Super Vampire Indiana Jones.
— Lore Sjoberg

A good coffee must be hot as the kisses of a girl on the first day, sweet as her love on the third day, and as black as the swearing of her mother when she hears of it.
— Old Chinese proverb

Videogames and movies get along like cats made of oil and dogs made of water.
— Lore Sjoberg

I’ve got the strong feeling that [this movie], based on the talent involved, this is going to be a “loose adaptation,” in the same sense that the Holocaust was a loose adaptation of Nietzsche

Rowling is as subtle as a large elephant with a big sign reading “I am subtle.”

This movie’s plot has more holes than the PGA championship
— TriggerStreet

He’s as bright as Alaska in wintertime.

The MPAA’s deals are shady as a 100-year old elm.
— Tech Industry News

The giant spider web was created by many spiders working together in harmony, like a United Nations without Russia.

Sitting on the dais, overlooking Washington’s elite, I felt like the Best Man at a wedding between the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore.
— Stephen Colbert

It sounded like the smell of raspberries tastes
— Terry Pratchett

There are a number of body parts [like the appendix] that may have served some important purpose in the distant past, but are now more likely to host disease and infection, much like pay phones.
— Lore Sjoberg

The Church of England is to religion what the cucumber sandwich is to food – it goes quite nicely with a cup of tea, but that’s about it.
— Pat Condell

Tom Cruise is so far in the closet he’s talking to Aslan.

We aren’t ranking the dumbest hip-hop lyrics ever. That would be like making a list of people Hitler was mean to.

His head was as empty as a eunuch’s underpants.

I am such a hard-core atheist I make Richard Dawkins look like the Virgin Mary
— Bruno Maddox

This game is to free time what whales are to krill.
— Defective Yeti

If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the baby is flame-retardant.
— Al Gore

I’m straighter than John Wayne voting for Reagan on a horse.
— Achewood

O God, who is as far beyond the universes I span as infinity is beyond six…
— The House Beyond Your Sky, Benjamin Rosenbaum

At last, I’ll be goin’ home, as sure as Thor don’t own shaving cream!
— Order Of The Stick

He has all the common sense of Medusa checking her makeup
— Order Of The Stick

Mother, more gravy. This turkey is as dry as Oscar Wilde
— Stewie, Family Guy

I have more muscles than a New England clambake.

The Assyrians were the first people to start using iron weapons instead of bronze which, to put into a modern perspective, is sort of like showing up for a knife fight with the Death Star.

With a wet, tearing KERRRAAAAACTCH sound, Molly exploded like a meat piñata at a birthday party for very strong, invisible children.
— John Dies At The End

The debate club is one of Cork’s most venerable societies. We’re older than John McCain and cooler than Barack Obama. Joining is easier than Sarah Palin’s daughter and simpler than Sarah Palin’s son.
— Introductory speech at the Cork debate club

Most of her cooking ended out as the culinary equivalent of the Tunguska event
— Jasper Fforde

It’s like I’m drowning, and monkeys dressed as lifeguards are throwing me anvils
— Dilbert

As far as appropriate national slogans go, “The luck of the Irish” isn’t far behind “The easy and high paying jobs of the Mexicans.”

The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying “And another thing…” twenty minutes after admitting he’s lost the argument.
— Douglas Adams

Jokes should be short and elegant, like a mathematical proof or a midget in a ballgown.
— Bottled City

On the David Wong Social Awkwardness Scale, with “1” being going to the “Pickup” instead of “Order” counter at a restaurant and “10” being a guy getting caught on national TV having sex with a dead baboon, I’d have to say that the following minutes alone with Amy rated about a 9.6.
— John Dies At The End

About the film’s merits I prefer to be silent at this stage, except to say that it seemed quite long, in the same sense that the Thirty Years War probably seemed quite long to anyone who had been expecting it to be over sooner.

I am more touched than a congressional page.
— Scott Adams

It’s the most blatant work of fiction since vows of fidelity were included in the French wedding service.
— Blackadder

He swings the bat…it’s a hit!…it’s going…going…and like America’s credibility on the world stage, it’s GONE!
— The Simpsons

Our marriage has been through more hardships than the Jews and Charlie Brown combined.
— The Simpsons

You’re making less sense than an epileptic auctioneer

Her art was about as deathless as a mayfly working on an oil rig.
— Ursula Vernon

I go through life like Helen Keller in a room full of Rubix Cubes
— Scott Adams

Someday, it will be one of those things we look back on with heartwarming nostalgia, like the Atari 2600 and polio.
— Defective Yeti

He asks how, if God is a person, He can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms.
— Terry Eagleton

Like the ski resort of young girls looking for husbands and husbands looking for young girls, the situation was not quite so reciprocal as it appeared

His jokes were like oil, crude but precious.

Ambition is like a frog sitting on a Venus Flytrap. The flytrap can bite and bite, but it won’t bother the frog because it only has tiny little plant teeth. But some other stuff could happen, and it would be like ambition.
— Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts

The tension was as thick as a community college student

He was as guilty as a Catholic O.J. Simpson

I kept my cool like Steve McQueen’s corpse in an interstellar void

I will help, but the cost will be higher than a Volkswagen full of hippies on a mountaintop

Angrier than a mother bear whose cub has just been sold on Ebay.
— Questionable Content

As famous as the unknown soldier

He makes lichens seem dynamic

Bush interprets the constitution the same way a Unitarian interprets the Bible

The American media has the attention span of a caffeinated Irish Setter.
— Defective Yeti

She was not only homely, but it was one of those homes with a burnt out trailer in the front.
— Terry Pratchett

Instead they stand immobile on the escalator, like tourists at the Mount Olympus Zoo’s gorgon exhibit.
— Defective Yeti

Radon is an interesting element, because it is both noble and deadly, like Vlad the Impaler
— Lore Sjoberg

Many say that DOS is the dark side, but actually UNIX is more like the dark side: It’s less likely to find the one way to destroy your incredibly powerful machine, and more likely to make upper management choke.
— Lore Sjoberg

My indifference to that comment can only be described as sexual in intensity.
-– Martin Terman

It’s the most pointless book since How To Learn French was translated into French.
— Blackadder

I like computers. To me, computers are kind of like tangerines, in that I can’t think of a good analogy about either right now.
-– Scott Adams

It was more difficult to understand than Bob Dylan reading Finnegan’s Wake in a wind tunnel.
— Dennis Miller

Everyone at the party was as stoned as a United States embassy.
— Anonymous

Life is short and hard, like a body-building elf
— The Bloodhound Gang

A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.
— Brent Wade

The building was a true skyscraper – thousands of tons of steel and more stories than a bar full of Vietnam veterans.

A telegraph system is like a giant cat, stretching across the country. You pull on the tail in New York, and the head squeals in Los Angeles. Radio works exactly the same way, except that there is no cat.
— Albert Einstein

Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche (apocryphal)

Love is like pi – irrational and very important.
— Lisa Hoffman

I’m as happy a dingo in a nursery.
— St. Leo

[See also: puns]

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54 Responses to Metaphors Be With You

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  2. Dindane says:

    “Causality is like a water-hungry front-yard lawn in Los Angeles: we know we want it, but it’s not easy to explain why.”
    From an explanation of special relativity (and how Newton’s laws are time-symmetric) at

  3. Here is the source for this quote of yours:

    Rowling is as subtle as a large elephant with a big sign reading “I am subtle.”

    – “MightyGodKing”, in So you don’t have to read it: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

  4. I think this would be a fantastic addition to your collection: “Quacks are organic forms of artificial intelligence: They would not pass the Turing test applied to a physics conversation.”


  5. Mike Blume says:

    “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”

    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

    “You ask a glass of water.”

    Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  6. Mike Blume says:

    If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn’t exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.

    Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

  7. I was surprised not to see this one on the list:

    “Analogies are like sandwiches in that I’m making one now.”

  8. Eneasz says:

    Have you read Scalzi’s “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City”? Despite its name, it is actually just a short story. I suspect you might enjoy it.

  9. Ghatanathoah says:

    My favorite one from is:

    “That is more single-minded commitment to being a jerk than converting to Buddhism so you can reincarnate as a Caribbean chef’s chicken.”

    It’s at this article:

  10. Rachael says:

    A post with this title should have waited another nine days…

  11. Anonymous says:

    That’s terrible, The Wire has much better metaphors than that!

    “You can’t even call this shit a war…wars end.”

    “A life, Jimmy. It’s the shit that happens while you wait for moments that never come.”

    And then there’s the elaborate chess metaphor that D’Angelo uses to explain cartel hierarchy, that would take too much space here to quote.

  12. Kees says:

    You don’t think I’m gonna send any of my people up against Brother? Shit, That nigga got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery.
    – prop Joe, the wire

  13. Eric Rall says:

    “A squat cannot be performed on a Smith machine any more than it can be performed in a small closet with a hamster. Sorry.”
    — Mark Rippetoe

    Context: A squat in this context is a free weight exercise where you squat down and stand back up with a heavy barbell braced against your shoulders. A Smith machine is an assist device for free weight exercises which stablizes a barbell so it can only go in a straight up-and-down path. It’s technically possible to use a Smith machine for a squat, but Rippetoe believes that this is strongly contraindicated because much of the benefit of a squat comes how it involves the entire body (back, stomach, chest, and arms to stablize the weight, and legs and hips to drive it upwards).

  14. Creutzer says:

    Another sentence that appeals to the same sensibilities as the examples here:

    Life is complex – it has real and imaginary parts.

    I don’t remember where I heard or read this…

  15. Anonymous says:

    Just got the title now, I may have to turn in my Star Wars card.

  16. Sam Rosen says:

    “Your conscience is a nuisance. A conscience is like a child. If you pet it and play with it and let it have everything that it wants, it becomes spoiled and intrudes on all your amusements and most of your griefs. Treat your conscience as you would anything else. When it is rebellious, spank it be severe with it, argue with it, prevent it from coming to play with you at all hours, and you will secure a good conscience; that is to say, a properly trained one. A spoiled one simply destroys all the pleasure in life. I think I have reduced mine to order. At least, I haven’t heard from it for some time. Perhaps I have killed it from over-severity. It’s wrong to kill a child, but, in spite of all I have said, a conscience differs from a child in many ways. Perhaps it’s best when it’s dead.” – Mark Twain

    “Trouble is like a disease: easy to cure hard to diagnose, easy to diagnose hard to cure.”

    “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” – Arab Proverb

    “Steve Jobs was like a great art patron, such as Pope Julius II. (The Apple CEO would have made a fine Renaissance cardinal.) While he didn’t come up with much himself, he possessed superb critical taste and a sadistic talent for motivating more creative underlings to do better.” – Steve Sailer

    “A person, like a society, is composed of parts with their own private agendas, all taking part in a continuously renegotiated dance of conflict, cooperation, and compromise. Our disparate motivations are like politicians trying to advance a faction, and the self, such as it is, is something like a prime minister — not powerful in its own right, but because it has managed to become the public face for the most powerful faction.” – Mike Travers

  17. Eric Rall says:

    “God, with a sword, can make a man a king. But a king, with a sword, can only make a man a knight. A knight, with a sword, can make a man a corpse. So… I kind of forgot where I was going there.”
    — Wondermark

  18. Lila says:

    You are not the king of your brain. You are the creepy guy standing next to the king going “a most judicious choice, sire”.

    — Steven Kaas

  19. Michael Edward Vassar says:

    The Ayn Rand: Evel Knievel comparison is actually both apt and flattering to Rand. It’s very impressive that Knievel, or the more-or-less coherence of Rand’s world-view survive the magnitude of leaps they both make.

  20. Ran GTPase says:

    This seems like a good time to link my crazy-metaphor-heavy noir-comedy short story!

    I wrote this during a fantastic game some friends and I invented where you get a big list of tropes from TV Tropes’ “random” button, then everyone has an hour and a half to write a short story using some agreed-upon number of the tropes.

    Something that tends to confuse people is that the “fwoosh” lines switch perspective between the two protagonists.

  21. Alejandro says:

    Blackadder’s similes are the best. Here are a couple more:

    -The Pimpernel is the most overrated human being since Judas Iscariot won the A.D. 31 Best Disciple Competition.

    – Blackadder: Baldrick, I have a very, very, very cunning plan.
    Baldrick: Is it as cunning as a fox that used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has moved on and is now working for the U.N. at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning?

  22. Deiseach says:

    From the world of music:

    “I’m as honest as the day is long/The longer the daylight, the less I do wrong” Shut Up, by Madness

    “The sound of a harpsichord – two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm” Sir Thomas Beecham

  23. Roxolan says:

    “The Ramkins were more highly bred than a hilltop bakery, whereas Corporal Nobbs had been disqualified from the human race for shoving.”
    – Terry Pratchett (Men at Arms)

  24. TDC says:

    What about metaphors that are negative (this is not like that) and borderline nonsensical, but are still illuminating in some way?

    My favorite example:
    ‘The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.’ – Douglas Adams

    • Eric Rall says:

      In a similar vein, I’m very fond of the opening line of Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.'”

  25. BenSix says:

    Since it appears that similes are allowed as well, I recommend P.G. Wodehouse, who came up with such gems as “aunt calling to aunt like mastodons bellowing across the primeval swamp” and “suddenly there was a sound like G.K. Chesterton falling on a tin roof”.

    It’s hardly literature but the most I’ve ever laughed was as a teen, when a friend, trying to express to someone why they should break up with a beautiful girlfriend, said, “She’s a golden shackle. She looks nice. But she’s a shackle.”

  26. While some of those were unusually funny, some were so boring that I’m at a loss to explain why they’d get posted on such a high-quality blog.

    • Anonymous says:

      The standard is that it must be better than any entry on the old list. It is a low standard, but you have to start somewhere.

  27. Noumenon says:

    “Ah, Magic: The Gathering. Like a regurgitated marble, the name rolls effortlessly off the tongue. Also like a regurgitated marble, the game was portable and could fit easily into the pocket of a trench coat or replica Starfleet uniform. I have no doubt that it was these similarities to a regurgitated marble that led to the game’s breakout success, although it was the differences that made it a permanent fixture of the modern gamescape.” –Chris Millar

    “Innovation is to this game what a cheeseburger is to a lactose-intolerant Hindu.” — Zero Punctuation

  28. Jack V says:

    LOL. That was awesome.

    I think my favourite metaphor may be the a moment of levity in the otherwise depressing Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, in a description of a local council meeting: “Mr Prancebody became excited and was somewhat eponymously ejected by the police.”

  29. The ice weasels quote is actually Matt Groening, in Life In Hell.

  30. Francesco says:

    Healthy foods, like reality show stars, tend to be both high-maintenance and tasteless.

    It really is the strangest thing that anybody has this idea. Whole grains, legumes and vegetables can be had at very cheap prices.

    • Tom Hunt says:

      I think the thrust is that they tend to be higher-effort-required, which is expected to dovetail with lower-monetary-cost. I’m pretty sure buying 50lb bags of flour is one of the most calories-per-dollar-efficient means of getting food, but unless you do some clever things with it it isn’t food. As opposed to, say, ready-made microwave meals, which are 1. unhealthy 2. easy 3. more expensive than their ingredients alone.

  31. Douglas Knight says:

    What is the origin of the reciprocity quote? What was the situation? I think I’ve seen it used in context, but I don’t remember where.

    Many people attribute it to Alan McKay. I suspect that they actually mean Alan Kay, but I haven’t caught him using it. I’ve found the conjunction of “girls looking for husbands” and “husbands looking for girls” going back to 1961, but as the focal phenomenon, not as an example. The 1996 Pleasures of Counting has a footnote that does it in full:

    Not everything that looks symmetric is symmetric. Consider a ski resort full of young ladies looking for husbands and husbands looking for young ladies.

  32. The Assyrians were the first people to start using iron weapons instead of bronze which, to put into a modern perspective, is sort of like showing up for a knife fight with the Death Star.

    But this is totally wrong. Early iron weapons were vastly inferior to existing bronze ones, but they were easier and cheaper to manufacture and so could be used to outfit large armies on the cheap. The triumph of iron over bronze was the triumph of quantity over quality.

    • Fadeway says:

      More importantly, it’s not particularly witty, unlike almost every other metaphor in the list.

    • Randy M says:

      Maybe “like showing up at a knife fight with a slightly crappeir knife, but also five buddies so equiped.”?

  33. Matthew says:

    I’ve been trying to come up with a work of prose that I can put around the sentence, “He would take the moral high ground, if it were left unattended for any length of time.”

  34. Ted says:

    “The Assyrians were the first people to start using iron weapons instead of bronze which, to put into a modern perspective, is sort of like showing up for a knife fight with the Death Star.

    Although it may be funny, the bronze/iron entry is not really true. In many respects, bronze is actually a superior material for weapons – the key advantage of iron is that it was common and cheap.

    • Ah, you beat me to it. I said the same thing below before I had read all the comments.

    • Oligopsony says:

      This is not a trivial advantage! Consider not an Assyrian warrior pitted against an Etruscan warrior, but an Assyrian army against an Etruscan one. Actually, even the former can get an advantage through cheaper metals, since he can be outfitted with more metal overall – consider how the need to economize may lead to use of spearpoints as opposed to the opening up of other possibilities, or of more metallic helmets and armor. (I’m making the particular examples here up, but you see the logic.)

      The AK-47 was a transformative weapon, but not because it was the most badass gun individually.

    • JohannesD says:

      One of the things you learn playing Dwarf Fortress 🙂 Iron is not very useful compared to bronze – until you figure out how to make steel out of it.

  35. B_For_Bandana says:

    “God does not play dice with the universe. He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker, in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

    Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

  36. B_For_Bandana says:

    “God does not play dice with the universe. He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker, in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

  37. Doug S. says:

    Your quest is so right, you can’t go left.

    — Rob Balder, “Still Annoyed: The Bowser Song”

  38. Doug S. says:

    Hey fella
    I bet you’re still livin’ in your parents’ cellar
    Downloading pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar
    And postin’ “Me Too” like some brain-dead AOLer
    I should do the world a favor and cap you like Old Yeller
    You’re just about as useless as JPEGs to Helen Keller

    — Weird Al Yankovic, “It’s All About The Pentiums”

  39. AJD says:

    The line “more chins than Chinatown” appears in Weird Al Yankovic’s 1988 song “Fat”, though I doubt that was the origin of that particular pun/analogy.

  40. ozymandias says:

    One of my favorite sentences along these lines is the first sentence of Neil Gaiman’s Shuggoth’s Old Peculiar:

    “Benjamin Lassiter was coming to the unavoidable conclusion that the woman who had written A Walking Tour of the British Coastline, the book he was carrying in his backpack, had never been on a walking tour of any kind, and would probably not recognise the British coastline if it were to dance through her bedroom at the head of a marching band, singing “I’m the British Coastline” in a loud and cheerful voice while accompanying itself on the kazoo.”